New Baby (Elephant!), New Book

 9780399166846It’s a week for book releases here on Picture Book Builders! Tammi Sauer’s MARY HAD A LITTLE GLAM came into the world on August 2nd (congrats, Tammi!), and a new book with my illustrations was also released on the same day. Woohoo!  THIS IS OUR BABY, BORN TODAYwritten by Varsha Bajaj and published by Nancy Paulsen/Penguin Books, chronicles the first day in the life of a baby elephant. With a loving mama, a trumpeting herd, curious cousins, and even some dancing peacocks heralding this little one’s arrival, it is apparent that the joy and wonder a new baby brings is shared by all. Varsha’s text is gentle and sweet, and has the rhythm and rhyme of a lullaby. I fell in love with her words from the start, and couldn’t wait to draw elephants!

Sharing about my illustration process for new book releases has been so fun (see my previous process posts for WHEREVER YOU GO and TATTOO STORY), so I’m here to do that again for this book.
Plus: Add a comment below for a random chance to win a copy!

The first phase in the illustration process involved researching elephants. Since Varsha grew up in India, I was inspired by the elephants and jungles in that region. I learned that there are some distinct differences between Asian and African elephants:

  1. Size: Asian elephants are smaller in size and weight
  2. Head and ears: Asian elephants have two forehead humps on their heads and smaller ears, where African elephants have one hump and large ears
  3. Trunk: The tips of Asian elephant trunks have one “finger” for grasping, and African elephants have two
  4. Tusks: Female Asian elephants do not have tusks (they have short “tushes” hidden from view), where both male and female African elephants do have tusks

I’m lucky to live in the same neighborhood as the Los Angeles Zoo, which has an incredible habitat for 1 male and 2 female Asian elephants, so I was able to spend time sketching there.


Photos and research at the Los Angeles Zoo


Sketchbook pages from zoo days

As with every picture book project, (1.) I create thumbnail sketches/storyboards to visually map out the book from start to finish. This helps me see how compositions and angles are flowing from page to page. (2.) I found some little model elephants at a toy store, (3.) which helped with all the different angles of the elephants in the sketches. (4.) Once the sketches were ready, I use a lightpad to trace the sketches onto the final drawing paper and begin the inking process, using dip pens and India ink. (5.) The inked drawings are ‘stretched’ in water and stapled on plywood boards for watercolor painting. All of these stages of the process went smoothly, until I got to the painting . . .


OUR BABY 4-5 page drafts_webEach unique book project comes with its own unique set of unpredictable challenges. For this book, when it came to the painting stage, I had some major struggles that I hadn’t experienced during previous projects. When I originally imagined the colors for the book, I wanted to use the golds and reds that felt inspired by the heat and colors of India. When I shared this first painting with the art director, Cecilia Yung, she felt that the colors were off — there was too much yellow, the palette came across as autumnal, and was missing the cool jewel tones that would be found in the shady jungle. The publishing team also weren’t fans of the sharp red shapes of the flowers. I had missed the mark right out of the gate, and found myself feeling lost.

As I prepped to re-group, re-paint this first piece, and continue into the rest of the book, I found it difficult to bring an objective critical eye to the paintings. I felt off-balance and insecure. But with the looming deadline, I did my best to approach the artwork with Cecilia’s notes in mind, and create a new color palette with more cool hues incorporated in the shadows.

Months later, after painting all 16 spreads, I turned the final art in to the publisher. But I had missed the mark . . . again. In my effort to focus on bringing new colors into the palette, I had lost much of the contrast and darkness in the shadow areas that I had originally achieved, and it felt washed out. The notes I got back were that there were still too many yellows, and not enough greens in the canopy. My insecurity while creating the artwork produced an insecure result.

After re-grouping again, we decided that the best approach to fix these problems was for them to send me the professional publisher scans, and I would make the adjustments digitally. This was the first time I’ve had to use extensive digital adjustments in the final artwork, but my former graphic design and photoshop training came in handy, and I was lucky to have Cecilia’s objective eagle-eye (and endless patience) to guide me through this process of fixing the work. I adjusted and adjusted until the pages came out balanced and rich again. Here are a few finished pieces:

OUR BABY 04-05

OUR BABY 20-21_final_web

OUR BABY 28-29

As with real birthing pains, the pains of a less-than-smooth creative journey did produce joyful results! And now this book is out in the world, ready to be cradled and loved. I learned and grew a lot as an illustrator through this process, but I think the most valuable realization I had, that I always hope to remember, was:

When feeling insecure and unbalanced in the creative process, it is always worth it to take the time to stop, step back, give it space, and come back to the work from a fresh and sure-footed place.


GIVEAWAY!  Add a comment below for a chance to win a signed copy of THIS IS OUR BABY, BORN TODAY! The winner will be chosen at random, and will be announced on September 2nd, 2016.


Buy THIS IS OUR BABY, BORN TODAY at your local indie bookstore
-or- Order from Barnes and Noble here



Eliza Wheeler

Eliza Wheeler is the author-illustrator of MISS MAPLE’S SEEDS (Penguin), which debuted on the New York Times Best Seller list. She also illustrated Holly Black’s Newbery Honor winning novel DOLL BONES (Simon & Schuster), Pat Zietlow Miller’s picture book WHEREVER YOU GO (Little Brown), Mara Rockliff’s picture book THE GRUDGE KEEPER (Peachtree), and Tricia Springstubb's new middle grade series CODY (Candlewick). Eliza received the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators Grand Prize Award for best portfolio at the 2011 SCBWI National Conference. Eliza is a northern Wisconsin native currently living with her husband in Los Angeles, California. See her work at


  1. Thank you for sharing your process, Eliza, and the new experiences you had to work through in creating the images for this book. I applaud you and these beautiful illustrations. I can’t wait to see this book!

  2. I think, sometimes the back story is better than the book itself. This time it is a perfect marriage of the two. Thank you for sharing your baby.

  3. Such wonderful beauty and balance after a long struggle -like the newborn on the mountaintop in the last spread!

  4. I always like to see the artist’s process in making picture books. Your illustrations for this book are beautiful and it has elephants! I am anxious to see this book and appreciate the chance to win a copy.

  5. It’s always so interesting to hear about the writer’s process. Thank you for sharing your journey and your beautiful new book. It looks lovely in every way!

  6. What an inspiring story, Eliza! Thanks so much for sharing your struggles so honestly. Sometimes we see these beautiful books and just assume they arrived fully-formed; I love hearing about the journey and the stumbles along the way (since I stumble so much myself!). Congratulations on another gorgeous book!

    • Thank you, Linda — and I’m glad you like hearing about the not-so-perfect part of the journey, too. I didn’t want to gloss over that important experience, and I think speaks to how much more difficult creating these books can be than people think from the outside!

  7. I love the process story and the end result. Absolutely lovely.

  8. Eliza, Congratulations on such a beautiful addition to the book world (and soon to my bookshelf!) Thank you for sharing this story of struggle. It is providing some much needed inspiration this morning!

  9. Always love the vibrancy of your illustrations!

  10. So beautiful…worth the journey! Thanks for sharing!

  11. You did an amazing Job Eliza. Our baby is glorious.

  12. LOVE your art, Eliza… and this looks like a warm, lovely story about precious elephants! (I won your last book, but just wanted to say how beautiful this is!).

  13. Thank you for giving us such an honest look into the journey of the art for this book. Your work is beautiful! Can’t wait to see th rest of the spreads for this book, Eliza.

  14. Thank you for sharing the step by step illustration process for the lullaby THIS IS OUR BABY, BORN TODAY. Your perserverance is noted as you moved forward with several unexpected challenges. All your determination equaled a gorgeous book that I look forward to reading. Your words of encouragement about feeling insecure and unbalanced warm my heart.

  15. Beautiful book! I appreciate your honesty in sharing the struggles you faced in illustrating. What a lesson with fantastic end results! Thank you!

  16. Beautiful! I can’t wait to see the new arrival!!

  17. Eliza, congrats to you for “This is Our Baby, Born Today” and also to Tammi for “Mary had a Little Glam”. “Tell me a Tattoo Story”, which you illustrated is now on our new book shelf! – Janet at Rodman Public Library, Alliance, OH

  18. Congratulations! What beautiful illustrations!

  19. Looks like all your hard work really paid off! Can’t wait to see the whole book!

  20. Eliza thanks for sharing the process of illustrating this book. I can’t wait to read it and savor your illustrations.

  21. Great advice! I often feel insecure and unbalanced! Glad to hear I’m not alone in that. Inspiring to see how beautiful art can come out of that.

  22. Constance Van Hoven

    I can’t wait to share this book with new my grandchild. Reading about the illustration process was enlightening for me as a writer.

  23. Congratulations! What a beautiful book.

  24. Self-doubt certainly creeps in easily when we’re all alone at our boards. Thank you for sharing your journey with us. Just fyi, I have “studied” and been blown away by your use of palette and color in your past books that I have seen (and own). Congratulations on creating such a beautiful book!

    • Thanks so much for this, Jennifer — that self-doubt definitely creates an isolating feeling. And it’s such a compliment that you’ve been inspired by my use of color! Wow! That’s an honor.

  25. The art in this book is breathtakingly beautiful and I can’t wait to read this book. Thank you so much for sharing your struggles. I needed to read what you realized, because I am feeling a bit insecure and unbalanced in a current project. Time to step back. All the best to you as this “baby” makes its way in the world.

  26. Lindsay Hanson Metcalf

    Your persistence had a huge payoff. Thank you for sharing your process. I look forward to sharing this one with my babies.

  27. Who doesn’t love a baby elephant! Beautiful book. Thanks for an insiders look at it.

  28. Oh, my! what a strikingly gorgeous book! Who doesn’t LOVE elephants?

  29. Thank you for sharing your experience, especially your insecurities. It helps to know that insecurity doesn’t mean you are unqualified. It can also mean you are striving for your best but aren’t quite there yet.

    • I’m always surprised and encouraged when I hear long-time pros talk about their process, and that they often have insecure moments when working. Maybe it will always be a natural part of the journey. Maybe our best always evolves to a new place?

  30. Oh, this is so beautiful, Eliza! I can only imagine how dismaying it must’ve been to finish the paintings and then learn they weren’t quite right. Ack! The gorgeous end product is obviously worth the work. 🙂

  31. Loved being in your studio! You are one talented illustrator. Thank you.

  32. Thanks for sharing your process. This was a very intriguing post.

  33. Very beautiful! Gorgeous color.

  34. It’s so interesting to see work in progress and compare it to the finished art. I wouldn’t have picked it but they were right with the colours. And your final illustrations are beautiful!

  35. Eliza, Your work is so beautiful. Thank you for sharing your struggles as an artist to get it right. You did that! Can’t wait to hold this book in my hand. Your work is an inspiration.

  36. This sheds light on the role of the art director too, as a guidepost for the artist and an intermediary for the printing process. Thank for illuminating us. The book is sunny and sweet!

    • It does reveal a lot about how important the art director is — they are often a huge part of what goes right behind the scenes of the art. I’ve been happy to see more picture books giving credit to the editor and art director these days, something I’d love to do in the future, too.

  37. What a fab post. ilove watching an Illustrators process and loved comparing the same spreads but different colour tones. It looks adorable.

  38. Thank you for sharing, your illustrations are beautiful!

  39. Eliza, I love your work. The art in Wherever You Go makes the words work. They are so vibrant. I can’t wait to see how this book looks. Your illustrations look so simple, it’s easy to forget that they don’t necessarily start out that way. Thanks for the insight into the struggle of the illustrator.

  40. Love this! I can’t wait to see the book. Thank you for sharing your illustration process – and the elephant facts!

  41. Wow! Beautiful art, Eliza! I can’t wait to see the entire book!

  42. Congratulations, Eliza. You’ve illustrated another beautiful book. I appreciate your sharing your color problems. As a writer, I have to be patient when the words aren’t right; it’s difficult at times. I understand your frustration, but in the end you produced great illustrations. I love your elephants!

  43. Thank you Eliza for sharing your insights and that the creative process isn’t always smooth. Your final illustrations look amazing. I can’t wait to see the whole book.

  44. An arduous process, but the end result absolutely glows!

    Such beauty.

  45. Beautiful book! Thanks for sharing the progression!

  46. Love to see your creative process! Thanks for being honest about your struggles.

  47. I do like the finished art- Yay for you for persevering! You have a wonderful illustrated book to be proud of.

  48. What a wonderful gift you have.

  49. Eliza, Thank you for your transparent sharing of this process! the illustrations are truly gorgeous. I’m so happy for you that they could be corrected digitally. I have been in that place where comments create so much doubt. It really does affect the work. I’m glad the joint effort turned out so beautifully!

    • Thanks so much for this, Luanne! It was a unique process and definitely worth getting it to turn out right. Also, it’s nice to hear when others have had similar experiences! Hope yours worked out, too.

  50. Eliza! What a detailed account of your illustration work. I loved the chance to see behind the scenes. I will be looking for your book for my sister who is expecting her first little one.

  51. I loved seeing your process, Eliza. And wow–from these spreads, I’d definitely say you nailed it! Beautiful! My granddaughter will love this one. 🙂

  52. Adorable! Love your colors!

  53. A beautiful reminder of the necessity of process. Rarely is a destination reached with just one step.thank you for sharing and I look forward to enjoying (and sharing) this beautiful book!

  54. Hi Eliza, what a great back story to the book. I love the explanations and comparisons between Asian and African elephants, love the story boarding. In fact I wish I could own the sheet of pencil story board sketches; a piece of artwork in itself! Hint, hint. . . 🙂 Goes to show no matter how experienced you are you never stop learning. Thank you for sharing.

  55. Jennifer Rumberger

    I love hearing about your illustration process and I love elephants. This book looks so adorable! Thanks for sharing from behind the scenes!

  56. LOVE <3 just about covers it….

  57. So awesome Eliza!! Beautiful work! Such a joy to know you and how far you’ve come in this! Looking forward to seeing you!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *